Cindy Bernhard paints smoke and mirrors, and we love the clever deception. Welcome to her world of super-flat pictures and air-brushed veneers, then swim into those ombre gradations of pastel hues and dive into the dreamscapes. Raised on a hog farm in rural Illinois and now calling Chicago home, as student, studio assistant and teacher, she makes her magic with a wealth of perspective. Bernhard’s seamless depictions of the duality of life, sly humor and satiny sense of color invites viewers to slow down and embrace the wonders of life, including the delicious irony. She has painted mysterious rooms and hallways, but maybe her favorite ciphers are dogs and cats. 

“This structure allows me to access viewers through empathy and humor. I use humor not merely as relief, but also as a political response and act of resistance to pop culture’s demanding aesthetics.” Bernhard’s first solo exhibit, Smoke and Prayers, wafting in a slow simmer of reflection and the crackle of humor that ignites all of her paintings, opens in September at Santa Monica’s Richard Heller Gallery. Just as smoke is the transition of matter into spirit, Joints and Jesus is a prayerful and playful appreciation of life, “visual poems,” as she calls them—whether or not you’re a cat person.  —Gwynned Vitello